For the past few months, it’s been pretty difficult to ignore the debate about the Chargers and their future in San Diego. But that’s distracted us from a key opportunity to create a worthwhile public asset right next door to the current Chargers stadium.

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Most people have an opinion about whether the Chargers will stay or go, and if the new stadium will be located in Mission Valley or Carson.

Meanwhile, lots of planning and analysis is taking place about the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site, and it seems to be more about new development than keeping the team. Otherwise, why would anyone select Mission Valley for a new stadium, given the Chargers’ lack of enthusiasm for the location? It’s like asking someone what they don’t want for dinner and then serving them a big ol’ heaping plate of it.

But considering how San Diego does things, it comes as no shock that fast-tracking a big development project is at least part of the end goal.

For example, within a short time of the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group naming Mission Valley as the chosen site, one of its members assembled a team to create a “new mixed-use, transit-oriented village” at the site and look at the “overall development of Mission Valley.”

On April 1, Councilman Scott Sherman shared a proposal to develop the 166-acre site with 6,000 new residential units, 3 million square feet of office space, some retail and hotel space and a whopping 20 acres of public park land.

Gary London, a real estate consultant who worked on Sherman’s proposal, said the new development “can be accomplished with or without a Chargers stadium.”

That development carries a big opportunity staring us right in the face – the potential to create a real San Diego River Park. I’m not talking about the measly 20-acre kind of park that is currently being proposed. I’m talking about using the majority of the 166 acres and combining that with the same kind of thinking and passion that helped create Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park.

Instead of creating one more boring development project typical of Mission Valley, we could recognize the potential that now exists and do something really great for the public by creating a massive river park that everyone could enjoy.

A San Diego River Park has been contemplated for years, and is already supported in existing planning documents, including the San Diego River Park Master Plan. Key points include the site’s “critical location for meeting community-based park and recreation needs in Mission Valley, no acquisition costs required and critical location for creating continuity in San Diego River Park and San Diego River Park pathway.” It could include ball fields, soccer fields, an active sports complex and a natural children’s play area.

The options for the park are limitless and constrained only by our will to make it happen. For once, how about working on a plan that provides more of what we don’t have, and less of what we do have? Rather than doing the usual and unremarkable, we could do something that inspires us – something we could look back on and be proud of for generations to come.

Donna Frye is a former member of San Diego City Council, whose district included Mission Valley, and was one of the original board members of the San Diego River Park Conservancy. Frye’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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